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WWL: Future of the Book
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
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The end of the Gutenburg era?



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48:56 minutes (23.49 MB)
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Publishers Weekly has predicted that 2009 stands to be “the worst year for publishing in decades.” American publishers and booksellers are cutting staff across the country and the economy has some wondering if even big booksellers, like Barnes & Noble, will survive as they currently exist. All this would seem to suggest that Americans are reading less. But they’re not. A study released last month by The National Endowment for the Arts says that for the first time in over 25 years, the number of literary reading adults in the US has actually increased 3.5% over the past six years. What does it all mean?

Today on Where We Live, we’ll talk to publishing veterans, authors, and technology gurus about the future of the book. How has the rapid expansion of the world wide web changed the way we read and what should we expect to see as the digital revolution marches on? Some people envision a new literary world where the entire contents of literary existence will be available, on demand, in a way that puts new emphasis on interconnectivity and social networking. But if that’s not it—how else might it look? Join the conversation. Are you ready to curl up by the fire with a Kindle instead of a paperback? Or is a good old fashioned set of pages between two covers as good as it gets? If you’re a book lover—does all this change have you excited, or just plain scared?  Leave your questions and comments below.

*This program originally broadcast on 2/18/2009



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Listener email from Gary

The quote “not handing a child an electronic device for reading” is a very shallow form of thinking. Al it is going to take is one, maybe two, generation for this transition. Children of today are using electronic reading, recreationally, in school, etc. We may prefer to hand our kids because we were brought up on books but our kids, or maybe their kids, are not. The advancement of digital technology will certainly help to advance the use of digital technology… Lower retention in digital reading for adults may be true but isn’t that simply the method of reading that we are used to? I suspect that the more kids read digitally, the more retention there will be. It is a matter of evolution…

Listener email from Dan

We've had books on tape and CD for a while now, but do people really buy these?  It seems they only exist at libraries; does this show any sign of hope for the future of books?

What's the future of libraries?

Listener email from Bennett

One of the more remarkable things about the digital revolution in book publishing is the availability of rare books, long out of print and once entirely inaccessible unless you visited a research library of some sort.  Having participated myself in the digitization of nearly every eighteenth-century English-language book for a digital publisher, we should not underestimate the value digitization of the book has had for democratizing access to our literary heritage.

Listener email from Amanda

While I am all for advancing technology, I also wouldn't underestimate the value and endurance of paper published books. Two factors I did not hear mentioned on your recent program are about longevity and control and access to information.

If I think back, just within my lifetime, of how many versions of electronic storage have come and gone making any information stored therein irretrievable?  Punch cards, various sized and formatted floppy discs, CDs, memory sticks etc. While these media are already antiquated, we still have 500 year old bound books to reference, along with any visual artwork that might accompany them that would also have been lost otherwise.

And in this age of rampant paranoia about terrorism and a growing climate of censorship and decreasing privacy and autonomy, think of how easy it would be to limit or eliminate all electronic access to a work, (especially when one doesn't actually OWN a copy on such new reading devices you have discussed) and keep future generations from any "inconvenient" knowledge. Rare or out-of-print books can be retained and passed on or even republished if there remains even one physical copy! It also limits information, once again, to the poorer classes, as libraries are still free but no one is giving away electronic reading devices or their downloadable content. We already see this disparity cropping up with PCs in poorer vs. richer schools. Do we really want to move backward in the direction where education and books are only for the elite? The surest way to keep a population free is to keep them educated.

Amanda Hannan

Which books should be printed?

As an aspiring author, I'm listening to this conversation with heightened interest.

I find I prefer to read fiction pinted on real paper and bound, but I prefer to have references electronically so I can do keyword search, among other things.

I'm a big fan of print on demand. However, how well can the book's format, including appearance be controlled? Also, the cost to print and finish on demand per copy is still higher than printing even smaller print runs.

Thank you for taking my question.

reading in the digital age...

Reading is one of my passions, although as an adult I have much less time to indulge.  When I get to curl up with a book, it is truly a retreat from the rest of the world, especially the technology side.  I'm 35, and I use my computer all the time, for work & fun.  While I will read an online book if that is all that is available, I much prefer the quiet, printed page with no greater technology than a reading lamp as my companion.  Add a cup of tea & I'm set for hours!




Springli Sage

Ellington, CT